As a bicycle rider myself – wear helmet, obey traffic rules – I find it stunningly hilarious that in a city of human projectiles, ranging from clueless to murderous, the one amateur who gets busted is Alec Baldwin.
Of all the people to snag, the police happened upon the surliest New Yorker of us all, so charming in his old Capital One commercials, so crude when tossing homophobic slurs at journalists or screaming insults at his teen-age daughter.
Of all the millions, why him, working his way through up Fifth Avenue, going against the flow? Needless to say, he smarted off to officers, got cuffed, back in May, and on Thursday he appeared in court in his old Capital One cuteness, to be called “Alexander” by the judge, and warned to be a “good boy.” How humiliating that must have been.
But the real question is, what were the odds that police would get him, when just about every cyclist I ever see – and dodge – in Obstacle City is breaking one law or another?
Living in a nearby suburb, I used to pop into the city on Sunday mornings, stick my bike on the back of my car, and ride around Brooklyn, Manhattan, even Staten Island one memorable time. It was great fun, at least til 10 AM or so, when motorists started gunning their engines.
Now I drive and walk and take the subway all over the city but I don’t ride my bike in New York, nor would I rent one of those new clunky-looking things from this new fad called Citi Bike.
In theory, making bikes available is a good idea – in Amsterdam, or maybe Seattle. But in New York, it only adds to the peril. It’s bad enough in New York dodging taxi and limo drivers – they are the worst, totally solipsistic – but cyclists in Manhattan are a close second.
New Yorkers have multiple sixth senses for avoiding danger, and one of them is to instinctively know you are about to be splattered by a delivery guy, going the wrong way, or on the sidewalk, or busting the light. Death by sweet-and-sour soup. Messengers at least are professional assassins, speeding through lights, merciless, and some of them carry whistles to give you a fighting chance to save your life, and at least they are agile to avoid wrecking themselves.
Now Citi Bike has put weapons in the hands of innocents. I did an unofficial survey the other day while parked in one of those weird new parking zones out in the middle of traffic. (What genius invented that?) I started counting merry cyclists playing in traffic and calculated that nine out of 10 – 90 per cent, doctor! – were not wearing helmets.
As a driver and pedestrian, I fear the sight of adults, in their first minutes on a rented Citi Bike, teetering off the sidewalk, handlebars wobbling, no helmet, of course, with a goofy smile on their faces, no doubt recalling the last time they rode a bike, when they were 13, back home in Grover’s Corners, or at summer camp. Whoopee, let’s go play in traffic.
It’s dangerous enough cycling in traffic if you obey the rules. On the peninsula where I live, I pause at signs, wait for red lights, and do not go down one-way streets. Some joker cut me off one time and the crossing guard near the post office screamed at him, made him stop, scolded him. Most drivers in my area are respectful. But ride a bike in Manhattan?
Right in the middle of all this anarchy, perhaps holding a coffee cup in one hand – how New York is that? – comes Alec Baldwin, no helmet, riding up Fifth, as entitled as an actor with a stunt man ready to do the hard parts. To paraphrase his old commercials, what’s in your brain pan?
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
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